Morgan Phillips: Los Angeles To Iceland by Andres Tardio

As beautiful as Southern California is, the awesome year-round weather can sometimes make one long for a change of scenery. Everyone needs to  add variety to their lives, even those in 80 degree weather. For Morgan Phillips, this meant a trip to Iceland.

Iceland is impressive and incredible, so the experience was documented through photographs that captured the awe-inspiring essence of this beauty. Phillips took WeAreJuxt into his travels with an interview upon his return to California.

AT: Why did you decide to go to Iceland?

MP: Going to Iceland was a spur of the moment decision. I actually bought the ticket 6 days before I left! My friend Ravi(@Ravivora) was going out there to work with Trash (@Trashhand) and I didn’t wanna miss out! So I made the decision to meet them out there when they were done working. That being said, Iceland is the mecca for photographers such as myself. The assorted landscapes and scenery are just begging to have a camera aimed at them. I just had to experience it.

AT: Can you describe your thoughts as you were on your way to Iceland?

MP: Absolute excitement. I hadn’t been out of the country for a couple years and I was aching to see and experience a new culture as well as take pictures. At the time, I was looking for some different scenery and people to shoot. So most of my flight I was thinking about what I was gonna shoot and how to shoot it to capture it’s true beauty.

AT: What did you pack for the trip in terms of photography gear?

MP: Most importantly I packed my iPhone and Mophie power pack, there are no outlets in the middle of Iceland, had to stay charged! In terms of the “artillery”, I brought my Nikon D600, Zeiss 25mm lens, Nikon 35mm 1.4g, Nikon 50mm 1.8g, Nikon 24-70 2.8g, Manfroto tripod, 2 36” 5 in 1 reflectors, Macbook Pro (gotta edit on the go), mini JOBY tripod, and all the accessories I would need. All of this was packed in my Chrome Camera bag. In hindsight, I over packed. The Zeiss 25mm stayed on my camera 95 percent of the time. It is perfect for capturing Iceland.

AT: Once you arrived, what were differences you noticed between LA & Iceland? 

MP: The differences between Iceland and Los Angeles are immense. LA has some beautiful landscape around it. This being said, it doesn’t compare to Iceland. Iceland is insanely beautiful. Every time we went around a turn there was something new to shoot, things that couldn’t be found in LA or the United States for that matter. LA never has snow; the northern part of Iceland was covered in snow and blizzarding most of the time! The population of the entire country is only about 350,000 people. To put this in perspective Los Angeles County has almost 10,000,000! That is 28 times the population of the entire COUNTRY! There were days where we didn’t see another person. If you are going to Iceland and hoping to eat American food, good luck. Most places will sell you a “hamburger” but it isn’t the same. The country only has 3 American restaurants that I saw: Taco Bell, KFC, and Subway. The Taco Bell and KFC were connected. [Laughs.] The most incredible difference to me was the age of the culture. Iceland was settled in the early 9th century, compared to the US, which was only settled by Europeans in the 16th century. I find this fascinating.

AT: What were your top 5 images you took in Iceland? What made each one special/stand out?

MP: All the shots [featured here] were taken with my Nikon D600 and edited in Lightroom only. They also have never been posted or seen. I have kept them under wraps until my new website is up and running! I hope you enjoy the sneak peek. The best part about Iceland is all you have to do is show up and shoot. Whatever you capture will be breathtaking.

Shot Info: Zeiss 25mm, F/6.3, 1/160th, ISO 140
This is the shot I had to get in Iceland. The iconic wreck of the United States Navy DC-47. This shot is special to me because I don’t know another place on the planet that has an untouched plane crash. The way the plane has become part of the landscape is breath taking. I am also just a sucker for shots that have a story behind them. Getting to the location is an adventure. It is on a black sand beach with no roads. We drove around for 30 minutes just looking for the wreck. We came over a sand dune and boom, there it was. Absolutely insane. It was perfect.

Shot Info: Zeiss 25mm, F/10, 1/125th, ISO 200
This is one of those shots you just come across. We were driving up a hill and as we came over the crest the entire car said “WOAH”. We had to stop. It is so rare you can capture so many different landscapes in one shot. I’ll let the viewer discover all this picture has to offer. I love it.

Shot Info: Zeiss 25mm, F/3.2, 1/200th, ISO 220
This shot was taken at sunrise in Myvatn. We always had planned an overnight in Myvatn to catch the sunrise but you could never have planned for this. The sunrise was the most spectacular sunrises I have ever seen. I don’t think anything will ever compare. It is a rare shot where I actually had to desaturate because the real thing looked so unbelievably fake. I love sunrises, and I’ll remember this one the rest of my life.

Shot Info: Zeiss 25mm, F/2.8, 1/50th, ISO 140
This was the most difficult shot to capture of the 5 shots. The wind was gusting extremely hard, I would estimate 50mph. You can see the grass is almost completely sideways. To add to the difficultly it was getting dark. Real dark. So I had to shoot wide open with a low shutter speed to get enough light to keep the ISO in an acceptable range. I took about 80 shots here, because of the wind and slow shutter speed, only 8 were steady enough. Some times you just have to keep trying till you get it. This was a random house on the side of the road, not planned but a must shoot.

Shot Info: Zeiss 25mm, F/4, 1/200th, ISO 360
This was taken the same morning as the other sunrise shot. It was captured about 20 minutes after the road shot and you can see how colors changed throughout the sunrise. I have never seen a sunrise go from yellow to orange to red to purple to a soft purple. It was something I didn’t think was possible. I was shooting this lake and it was missing something. I asked Zach (@Zachpassport) to run out and stand on the small jetty. I think his presence adds to the scale of this incredible scene.

AT: If others want to go to Iceland, how should they prepare?

MP: It all depends on the time of year. Winter is pretty brutal there. I was there in the beginning of winter and it was 25 degrees Fahrenheit. So dress warm. Iceland is also known for its wind. The gusts were maxing out at almost 60 miles a hour in some places. We had an incident with a car door almost being ripped off our rental. It was a costly mistake. So make sure you get full coverage on your rental car! Also it is important to know things are a lil more expensive, not to much but it can be noticeable. Coffees were about 5 bucks at a coffee shop. It is easy to now know how much you are spending because the currency is crazy. 44 US dollars equals roughly 5000 Icelandic Krona. The most important way to prepare is plan your trip well. Know where you wanna shoot and at what time so you can get there. The Sunseeker App helped me with this. It shows you the direction of the sun and specific times of day. Nothing worse than getting to a location and realizing you are in a shadow and the shot is ruined! Also, if you are going to Iceland in the winter, the north isn’t the best for photography. It is generally snowing and hard to shoot.

AT: How would you describe your photo style?

MP: It is so hard to describe my own style. My goal with every picture I take is to capture the true beauty of a scene as I see it. Whether I am shooting a person or a landscape, I want the viewer to see what I see. I want it to be true and real. In my opinion, if I do my job right, the viewer will feel like they are there and feeling what I am feeling at the time of the shot.

AT: How long have you been a photographer?

MP: I have always owned a camera of some kind. About 7 years ago I got my first “real” camera. It was an Canon EOS something or other. It was film. I took a photography class or two at the time and enjoyed it. I never thought it would turn into what it is today. I sold the camera and bought a 1980s Canon AE-1 about 3 or 4 years ago. This is where my love for photography took off. Soon after I started an Instagram. Shot on the iPhone for about a year and finally bought my first DSLR. That started my professional photography career. At this point I have been a full time professional photographer for only a year. It has been a blast! Best career in the world.

AT: What inspires you about mobile photography?

MP: Mobile photography has changed the photography game. Billions of people now have access to a camera that 10 years ago would be out of reach. My inspiration for mobile photography comes from the ability to shoot at anytime, anywhere. I don’t have to lug my DSLR around to capture a shot. This allows us to shoot things that normally we couldn’t shoot. I love that. I also love the fact a cellphone with a camera has changed the way we all see the world. Daily we see pictures and video shot in places that normally wouldn’t allow photos to be taken. Places like Egypt, Syria, Libya, and more recently the conflicts in central Africa. We can witness things first hand with the people experiencing them as our guide. I hope this changes the world like it has changed me.

AT: What apps do you advise photographers to use?

MP: In terms of mobile photography, VSCO Cam is by far my most used app. 85 percent of my most recent photography is edited completely in that app. I cant express how much I love VSCO Cam and VSCO Film for Lightroom. I also use Snapseed and Filterstorm. They can accomplish the things VSCO can’t. Things such as spot editing, layers, masking, and fine tuning an image. I also use Touch Retouch from time to time to remove those pesky imperfections in an iPhone shot. For DSLR editing, Lightroom and Photoshop are my go to apps. VSCO Film is a must!

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